Do You Know Your Firefighter Slang?


By: Bambi Turner

6 Min Quiz

Image: kali9 / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Do you know the difference between a Probie and a Grass wagon? Know when to use a Halligan versus a Hurst tool or a K-tool? Any idea whose job is it to drive a firetruck, or to make sure the back wheels on an articulated truck stay on the right track? Test your knowledge of firefighter lingo with this quiz!

Anyone who's ever stepped foot into a firehouse knows that firefighters are family. Spending long hours on the clock together forges bonds not seen in a typical workplace, and that's not even taking into account the stress of the work itself. These brave men and women outfit themselves in gear that weighs 45 pounds or more, then step into fires and other disasters as most people are running the opposite way.

Yet despite the dangers, those who pursue a career in this field enjoy a workplace camaraderie unlike any other, as well as the pride of making a real difference in protecting the public and saving lives. To communicate quickly and effectively on the job, many firefighters use their own industry slang, including special lingo for tools, equipment, personnel and methods. Think you can identify these common terms used by firefighters? Prove it with this quiz!

The Hurst tool saves a lot of lives, but what name is a firefighter more likely to use when calling for this critical piece of equipment?

Firefighters often find themselves responding to terrible traffic accidents, and in some cases, it's impossible to extract people from mangled vehicles. When this happens, firefighters turn to a hydraulic machine known as a Hurst tool, aka the Jaws of Life, to pry the pieces of the wreckage apart.


If a firefighter tells you he went on three stretches during his shift, which of these did he deal with three times?

A firefighter who got sent on three calls last night might tell his friends he went on three stretches, or that he stretched three times. This term comes from the fact that firefighters must stretch out the hose at each job to put out the blaze.


What does it mean when firefighters are traveling to a Code One situation?

Firefighters can speed through traffic thanks to powerful lights and sirens. When heading back to the station, they may choose to go for a Code One, and leave the lights and sirens off during the trip.


Back in the day, this firefighting tool was known as a plug. What term is used for this gadget today?

Old-school firefighters relied on rudimentary plugs to allow them to connect to the water supply when it was time to fight a fire. Today, modern firefighting professionals use modern hydrants to access a steady stream of water on demand.


That water-spraying tool might look like a hose to a layperson, but what term is a firefighter more likely to call it?

Non-firefighters might call that tool that sprays water on a fire a hose, but pros use a different term. They are more likely to call this critical tool a pipe or line.


Which of these do firefighters use to help them breathe?

The air inside a burning building can quickly bring even a trained firefighter to his knees. That's why these professionals use a SCBA, or self-contained breathing apparatus, to keep them supplied with fresh air. Some also simply call it an air pack.


What term describes a fire truck traveling with lights and sirens in operation?

A Code 3 means that a fire truck is traveling with lights on and sirens blaring. A Code 1 is the opposite, and involves traveling with no lights or sirens,


Who typically drives the fire truck?

An engineer, or driver/engineer, is a critical part of any firefighting crew. This individual not only drives the truck, but also operates and maintains major equipment like ladders and pumps.


What is a firefighter looking for if he asks you for a Halligan?

Named for an NYC firefighter from the 1940s, the Halligan is a powerful tool used in the firefighting industry. It resembles a giant pry bar, but is versatile enough to smash through a locked door or knock down a wall.


Ready to put out the blaze? What is your squad mate looking for if they request a red line?

It might sound like a transit route, but the red line is actually a tool used by firefighters. This small hose generally has a one-inch diameter, and is used for smaller fires, such as a car blaze.


What is a quint, in firefighter speak?

Some firefighting vehicles are simple ladder trucks, while others serve more than one function. A quint is a five-function truck, which can carry a hose, transport water, pump water, hoist an aerial ladder and incorporate a water tower.


Which of these is a firefighter most likely to use a K-tool on?

You can't fire a fire if you can't get to it. Firefighters use a K-tool to pop cylinders out of locks and easily open doors. This allows them to access a fire and put it out without bothering with keys.


Which of these male monikers is a common nickname used to refer to any firefighter?

Calling a fireman a Jake is a long tradition -- one that is rumored to date back to 19th century Boston, when firemen used a device called a J-key to activate fire alarms. Since then, J-key has become Jake, and the name can be either a compliment or an insult depending on where you live.


What does a Tillerman do?

Some long firetrucks require not only an engineer in the driver's seat, but also someone to sit at the back and steer the back wheels around curves and corners. This is the job of the Tillerman, also known as the Tiller.


What term describes the practice of pulling water from a pond or well when a hydrant isn't available?

Backdrafting is a scary phenomenon that firefighters sometimes encounter, but drafting is something else entirely. It is the practice of pulling water from alternate sources likes cisterns or ponds when a standard hydrant isn't available.


What do you call a pickup-based firetruck used on small fires?

Sometimes the standard firetrucks just aren't practical for accessing the scene of a fire. In some wild fires for instance, firefighters use a specialty pickup known as a grass wagon. Equipped with a hose and water pump, it's ideal for tackling small blazes.


Which of these might cause a firefighter to call for a Signal 13?

Firefighters are often called to the scene of a medical emergency, even if no fire is involved. A Signal 13 is fireman speak for an incident involving a psychiatric patient, one who who requires mental healthcare.


How to firemen welcome a new truck to the firehouse?

A new firetruck is the perfect occasion for a wet down ceremony. That means pushing the old truck out, spraying the new one with water, then parking it in its new home.


What mocking nickname do firefighters give to a squad member who lives or dies by his firefighter rep?

Pride in your work is one thing, but those who live or die by their firefighter rep are known derisively as woo woos. These individuals never fail to wear their official gear out in public, and may even put lights or sirens on their personal vehicle so they can rush to the scene of a blaze even when they are off the clock.


What term describes a boom that can squirt water high into the air?

Firefighters have nicknamed water-spraying boom trucks snorkels. These trucks allow fire professionals to aim water directly into a blaze, even if it's high above the ground.


Which of these terms do firefighters use to refer to a standard ambulance?

Firefighters, paramedics and EMTs work closely together to help out during an emergency. Some firefighters use the terms bus or box when referring to an ambulance.


What does the dispatcher want to know if they are requesting your ETA?

ETA stands for estimated time of arrival. This is critical information for firefighters, as every second counts when a fire is blazing.


Where do you complete your hose layout when doing a reverse-lay?

Firefighters use specialized techniques to fight fires. A reverse lay involves starting at the fire itself, then rolling out the hose to connect to a nearby hydrant.


What is the minimum number of firefighters required for an interior attack done by the books?

An interior attack means fighting the fire from inside the structure. To maximize safety, it always requires at least four people -- two to go in, and two to stay back for backup or rescue.


What does GPM refer to in the firefighting world?

GPM stands for gallons per minute. This information is critical to firefighters as they calculate the best way to battle a blaze.


Firefighters have some surprisingly handy tools in their arsenal, including an Opticom. What is this gadget designed to do?

Every second counts when it comes to fighting a fire, so firefighters can't exactly take the time to stop at every red light on their way to the scene. An Opticom is a special device that automatically changes traffic lights to green to give the fire engine the right of way.


What nickname do firemen use to refer to volunteers?

Believe it or not, around 70 percent of all U.S. firefighters are volunteers. These Vollies work alongside paid forces to keep their communities safe.


Where do you start laying the hose in a forward lay?

A forward lay is an effective firefighting technique to quickly put out a blaze. It involves starting at the hydrant or other water source, then laying the hose out toward the fire.


When firefighters use the term Truckie, what are they actually referring to?

Firefighters love to come up with their own slang, and that includes coming up with creative names for other members of the squad. A Truckie, for instance, is any firefighter who works on a ladder truck.


Which of these refers to a hose that is under pressure from a pump?

A hose won't be very effective at firefighting unless it has some water pressure behind it. Hoses under pressure from a water pump are known as live lines.


What is the name of the piped water source designed for firefighters to use inside a building?

A standpipe is a must-have system within a building, especially a high-rise. It allows firefighters to quickly connect their hoses and access pre-piped water, or even to pump additional water into the building's sprinkler system.


What is a firefighter asking for if she requests the green line?

Firefighters are sometimes forced to improvise when the right tools or conditions aren't available to fight a blaze, This might even mean grabbing onto the green line, aka the garden hose, if nothing else is around.


Which of these is a type of turnout gear?

The heat and smoke from a fire poses serious risk to the brave men and women who fight these blazes. Turnout gear, which consists of heavy clothing, helmets, boots and other gear, can help reduce injury risk.


The fire is out, but the job isn't done. What term describes the process of seeking out hidden hotspots?

Firefighters know that the work isn't done when the flames die down. Before they leave the scene, they search for any remaining dangers or hotspots in a process known as mopping up.


Hey -- everyone has to start somewhere. Which of these is another term for a rookie firefighter?

When you start your firefighting career, you will likely spend some time on a period of probation while you learn the industry, Don't be surprised to find yourself referred to a probie during that time.


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